All season, Marian Catholic has not lost consecutive games. After losing 68-51 to Morgan Park in the semifinals, the Spartans bounced back with a 58-48 win over North Chicago in the third place contest at Peoria on March 17.
For the Spartans (26-6), it is the first state trophy for Marian in boys basketball.
“We have not lost two games in a row all year,” Marian coach Mike Taylor said. “To come back and play with confidence and fight, I’m proud of this team. We don’t dwell on those losses, but we just go after the next opponent. That ride home is a lot better.”
Ahron Ulis led the Spartans with 30 points, while Malik Tidwell tossed in 18. Marian also had a 51-29 advantage on the boards. Alec Dinwiddie grabbed 15 rebounds, while Chris White hauled down 11 rebounds.
Up six points, Ulis hit a jumper to start a 7-0 run. Dinwiddie then scored in the paint, and Ulis followed with three-point play for a 38-25 lead just over two minutes into the third period.
However, North Chicago battled back and finished the period down 41-37, thanks to a 12-3 run.
North Chicago kept the pressure on in the final period, and forged a 45-43 lead. The Spartans then dug deep. Tidwell knotted the game with a couple of free throws, and the junior nailed a jumper for a 47-45 advantage midway in the fourth quarter.
Tidwell kept the rally going with another jumper. Then baskets from Ulis and Tidwell upped the cushion to 53-45. North Chicago narrowed the gap 53-48 with 1:24 left. The Ulis drained a free throw and added a layup. White punctuated the win with a dunk.
“We survived the third place game after playing hard yesterday and, as disappointed as these guys were, I just told them, we didn’t play perfect, but we continued to fight like we’ve done all year and made some big plays at the end.”
Against Morgan Park, the Spartans made a couple of good runs, but the Mustangs came up big at the end.
Trailing 17-11 at the end of one period, the Spartans tied the game twice in the second quarter. Marian opened the second stanza with a 10-4 run. White started the rally with a three-pointer, and he followed with two baskets and free throw to slice the deficit 21-19. Tidwell then knotted the game. After a Mustang basket, White canned two more charity tosses to tie the contest 23-23. At the half Morgan Park led 32-25.
Down 14 in the third period, the Spartans closed the quarter with a 5-0 run. Dinwiddie tallied in the paint, and Tidwell buried a three to make it 49-40.
After falling behind 53-40, Marian pulled within nine again with a basket by Tidwell and Ulis’s two free throws. However, the Spartans would come no closer.
Ulis topped Marian with 15 points, while White provided a double double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Tidwell tossed in 13 points, while Dinwiddie hauled down 10 rebounds.
“I thought we were in a track meet for a while,” Taylor said. “The key was them beating us in transition, and on second-shot opportunities. We just didn’t shoot the ball very well. Morgan Park is too darn good not to shoot well and not to take care of the ball.”